Month: July 2014

Leave My Biscuits Alone

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Machines are so pervasive these days, it’s hard to find anything anymore that has human hands involved in the creation process. Hell, machines are making machines to make other machines. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – theoretically it leaves us free to use our brains more. Okay, that was just a joke. We’re not becoming any more creative, just lazier.

There is one place, though, where I draw the line against the encroachment of technology and machine-made goods – the kitchen. And, most especially do I object to the baking of my bread being automated. When I was a kid, I used to love watch my grandmother standing at the table, her arms flour-stained to the elbow, rolling dough so she could use a jelly jar to stamp out the huge buttermilk biscuits we had with our breakfast. Watching her line them up on a cookie sheet before putting them in the oven was, in my youthful mind, akin to watching Michelangelo daub his brushes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’m not really engaging in hyperbole here, either, because she did some really inventive things with biscuits, like putting little chunks of cheese in the center of each biscuit, which would melt into the bread as it baked. Man, did that taste good.

Nowadays, though, biscuits come in a can. You tap it against the counter edge, peel back the paper wrapping, and pull each biscuit off a roll. You can still, I suppose, get creative if you wish – but something’s missing. Same goes for making rolls, croissants, corn pone, etc. When you take out the mixing of ingredients, rolling the dough, etc., you remove an essential part of what makes bread – well, bread.

Machines are never going away, and more and more things will be machine-made in the future. But, could we please, please, bring back handmade bread.

You take music, for instance - who can deny that it sounds better coming from a live musician?
You take music, for instance – who can deny that it sounds better coming from a live musician?

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Review of ‘The Bleak’

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The Bleak by Keith Dixon is another in the Sam Dyke mysteries. I received a free review copy of The Bleak in exchange for an unbiased review.

Sam Dyke is a wise-cracking private investigator who is hired by Margaret Sellers (call me Barbara) to find out why her boss, a scientist in a well-guarded research facility, has changed from being a nice, easygoing guy to an uptight bundle of nerves. Even though it violates his ninth rule of private detecting, “never take on a client who you think might be nuts,” Dyke takes the job.

The Bleak is a genre-jumping buffet of delight – well, maybe not quite genre-jumping, more like sub-genre hopping. It has the traits of a cosy mystery, with little bubbles of hard-boiled drifting about – and with large dollops of humor thrown in for good measure. Dixon does a great job of creating believable characters in believable settings, doing quite unbelievable things. Don’t start this book if you don’t have a few hours to kill – you’ll find it difficult to put down.

Five Stars – hands down.

Review of ‘Simon Says: Perdition Games’

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When a wealthy young girl, Amanda Reid, disappears, her mother Estelle seems not to care, only reporting it to the police long after the incident. When the pressure mounts, though, Estelle is forced to hire private detective Sam McNamara to look for Amanda. McNamara soon finds herself immersed, not only in a dangerous religious cult led by a zealot, Father Mussani, but also in the midst of the Reid family’s shady past – a past that Estelle wants to keep buried.

Simon Says: Perdition Games by L.E. Fraser is a chilling book that takes us deep into the dark recesses of twisted and tortured minds, unravelling dirty secrets like a kitten playing with a ball of twine. With chapters alternating from the point of view of an astonishing list of characters, it’s easy to get confused, but Fraser does a good job of wrapping up loose ends, making it worth the effort.

Colorful settings – although some of the colors are dismal and dreary – and compelling characterizations mark this as a must-read for the summer.

A solid four stars.

Review of ‘Darkest Vow’

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I received a free review copy of Darkest Vow by J. Newman, looking forward to an entertaining tale from the noir-era of mysteries. A story of dissolute private detective Joseph Riley who is hired by a beautiful heiress, Alexis Santorum, to recover her kidnapped husband, it has all the elements of the ear of the 1940s tales of hardboiled private eyes who claw, punch, and drink their way to solutions of tough cases.

A fan of the genre, I was a bit disappointed by the way this story was handled. The prose was a bit too heavy-handed, and the errors that crept in (such as a ten-legged cricket) spoiled a story that could have been a great read. Newman has the potential to write stories in this genre that would really entertain, and bring back the golden era of gritty mystery fiction, if he’d eschew the overloaded – and sometimes distracting – descriptions. In this case, less would be more.

I give him full credit, though, for a good plot. Despite the purple prose which made reading difficult, he did a good job of keeping the reading guessing. I really wanted to give this story high marks, but unfortunately, the mechanical problems pull it down to just slightly below average. As much as I hate having to give anything less than three stars, I’m afraid this book is only two stars for me.

Romance Writers

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Romance Writers. A great graphic that could apply to writers of any genre.

Review of ‘The Courage to Kill’

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Janice Parrish is a 27-year-old with a horrible secret. As a child, she was sexually molested by her father, according to her therapist. When her father is murdered, she remembers being at his house around the time of the incident, but her memory is otherwise blank. She is indicted, but crime reporter Ray Myers thinks a mistake has been made and he seeks the truth. His search, however, puts both him and Janice in danger from a mysterious psychopath who has just started a killing spree.

The reader is kept on tenterhooks for a good part of the book, trying to figure out who did what to whom. Is Parrish really suffering from recalled memories, or is she a manipulative killer? Or, is she being manipulated? In the end, all of these questions are answered, but not before you’re taken on a serpentine ride through the dark recesses of twisted minds.

The Courage to Kill by Ron Argo is a twisted tale of suspense and psychological manipulation that will give you chills. I received a free copy in exchange for my review. This is a story that once you start reading is hard to put down.

Argo uses prose like some of the old noire writers. In any other story it would be overblown, but in this case it fits perfectly.

The Demise of the Content Mills

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002 One by one they’re biting the dust – fading into obscurity – riding into the sunset. I’m talking about the content mills – those internet sites that took short posts from all kinds of writers and put them up for all to read. For this they paid peanuts; a mere fraction I’m sure of what they took in from advertisers. But, despite that, their business model is no longer seen as viable.

That at least is what the note said that I got from one of the sites that I’ve contributed to for the past several years. I never made a ton of money from feeding the mills; chump change actually; but it did help me to reach a lot of readers, and was great for working out the old writing muscles. Most importantly, having to write to the length limits – 200 to 600 words on average – helped me learn to trim the fat from my writing.

A lot of writers I know view content mills with disdain. They think of them as second rate places for writers that don’t pay enough. I’m not sure about the second rate part, but I do agree they never paid enough. But then, I used to work for print publications, the most generous of which paid me fifty cents per word, or sometimes $400 to $500 per article (the latter were very rare. My average per article was around $50). Compare that to the content mills that were paying based on readership. I’ve had content articles that made me a hundred bucks, and had the site not close for economic viability reasons, would still be paying. When the print publications I wrote for went out of business they still owned my articles. When the content mills shut down I can download my articles and sell them elsewhere.

So, I’ll miss them. But, like the changes from paper only to paper and e-books and the rise of indie publishing, the writing industry is forever changing, and writers who want to endure must change with it. I have no doubt that most of the current content mills will soon disappear – but, in due time they’ll be replaced by something else. I have no idea what that something else will be, but I’m sleeping with one eye open so I can be near the front of the line when it arrives.

#IWSG: Advice – To Follow or Not To Follow, That’s The Question

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It’s that time again – time for another contribution to Alec Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. You should really pop over and join. My offering this month is about following (or not) advice.

InsecureWritersSupportGroupThere’s tons of advice out there for writers: how-to, what you shouldn’t do, you could fill the Library of Congress with it. I’m taking a poke at one piece of advice in particular – some people are adamant that you should never give what you write away for free as this devalues it. I’m not taking a side, nor am I attempting to debunk that belief. I’m doing what all the how-to authors should do, and telling you what works for me.

I’ve been publishing my books on Kindle for several years, but I resisted participating in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) program for a long time because of the aforementioned advice. It was only after I’d launched my Buffalo Soldier series that I decided to give the KDP free offer a shot. I did the free 5-day giveaway with the fourth in the series at the same time I published the fifth, just to see what would happen. Up to that time I’d been getting 3 – 5 sales per month. That month, though, after over 600 downloads of the free book, I saw a significant uptick in sales of the earlier books. The new book also had amazing sales (nearly 800 during the first three weeks).

Since then I’ve been doing a 3 to 5-day giveaway each month. My sales went up after I started the practice, with an average of 100 – 150 per month. I can’t attribute all of the new sales to the promotion, but then again, who knows. Maybe it is a bad idea to give your work away, but then again – –